Glass Houses: Applying “The 11th Commandment” to Professional Services

Though he did not invent the phrase, Ronald Reagan was the most famous proponent and practitioner of what’s commonly referred to as “The 11th Commandment”: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

While initially coined to address political campaigns, the precept is directly applicable to branding and perception management in business as well. The underlying premise is that public attacks and denigration originating within a group ultimately undermine the group itself by giving credibility to similar attacks from outsiders.

Apparently Shawn McNalis at Atticus, a practice management education and training organization for attorneys, is not a believer. In a blog post this week on Attorney at Work, McNalis advocates for taking advantage of out-of-work and underemployed legal marketers to do admin work:

“You might be able to hire a college student part-time or as an intern, or try delegating marketing tasks to a paralegal or receptionist on your staff. But keep in mind that right now the job market is filled with skilled legal marketing professionals who are out of work because of the recession. Be sure to look at the more experienced marketers—you might be surprised at the quality of help that’s available.

Isn’t that analogous to the very thing law firms hire practice management coaches to help them with? Dissuading bargain-hunters and countering misperceptions about the value of attorneys’ expertise and professionalism?

Just for fun, let’s replace “marketers” with “lawyers” and “practice management consultants” in McNalis’ recommendation and see how it plays:

  1. “You might be able to hire a law student part-time or as an intern, or try using LegalZoom. Right now the market is filled with skilled lawyers who are out of work because of the recession. You might be surprised at the quality of lawyers willing to bill at steeply discounted rates.”
  2. “Keep in mind that the internet is filled with excellent  free practice management and lawyer coaching advice. Be sure to do a Google search and read and watch as much practice management content as you can before considering paying a consultant for training.  You might be surprised at the quality of lawyer coaching that’s available for free.”

Just sayin’…

My State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting Wrap-Up

Last week I had the great good fortune to participate in the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, and live blogged on Twitter — hashtag #sbot11 — a goodly amount of interesting comments and insights from the sessions I attended . It was topically diverse, engaging, well-curated and well-run, with a lot of strong, actionable content.

Since my interest is marketing and business development, I spent my day Thursday in a series of sessions called “The Adaptable Lawyer Legal Innovation/Computer and Technology Track,” and Friday in the Law Practice Management track. While it wasn’t billed or consciously framed as such, the content of those sessions aligned with one or more of four basic subject areas:

  • Mobile computing
  • Social media platforms
  • Content marketing
  • Niche marketing

Mobile Computing

The standing-room-only crowd for the “60 Apps in 60 Minutes” session made it clear. From iPads and productivity apps to cloud-based research tools and practice management systems, mobile computing is transforming the way that lawyers work. While the iPad was still something of a novelty for “geeks” at last year’s annual meeting, it has quickly evolved into an essential operational hub. As Tom Mighell pointed out in his fast-paced and useful presentation, the depth and breadth of applications specifically for lawyers has made the iPad the de facto mobile computing platform for lawyers.

Social Media Platforms

Facebook was clearly the shiny object this year, with Twitter and LinkedIn tied for a distant second. Last year’s belle of the ball — blogging — was hardly discussed. That probably sounds snarky, but it derives from disappointment about missed opportunities. The presenters who discussed the various social platforms could have framed them in an integrated context, drilling down further into one or more and offering actionable guidance and specific counsel about how use cases can differ by social platform, firm size and practice area. Instead, the overall impression was “here are all the social media sites you need to join.”

Content Marketing

As mentioned above, legal marketing tends to focus on the channel rather than the product. In other words, the social media platforms themselves rather than a merchandising strategy for content. While no one discussed content marketing directly, several presenters showed an inchoate sense of the “create once, publish everywhere” axiom of social media marketing. A simple example of this would be to write a blog post, tease it on you Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, cross-post it on LinkedIn groups and link to it on Facebook.

I was excited to hear several speakers mention JD Supra, an online content distribution service for legal topics (articles, white papers, presentations) that is woefully underutilized and deserves serious consideration as an organic search/social signal amplifier.

As a practical matter, law firms are likelier to see quicker, more direct results from JD Supra as a content marketing platform than from Facebook — and with  a lot less effort.

Niche Marketing

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there were several good niche marketing case studies, but you had to really dig for them under generic social media palaver. For example, instead of discussing how focusing on a niche expertise — the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act — led to a thriving international business practice, one panelist spent his time extolling his narrow and idiosyncratic understanding and use of social media.

Since the number of solo and small firms chasing after a declining pool of general business and family law opportunities is increasing, next year’s program would benefit from a session with practical instruction on how to leverage specific interests and expertise into unique value propositions that attract clients.

Summary

I’ll give the last word to Kevin O’Keefe, who tweeted, “Is there a better State Bar Annual Meeting than Texas? Great people, presenters, and connections.”

Law Firm Websites: Bios and Headshots vs. Marketing Speak

Whether by design or by accident, Vinson & Elkins’ use of attorney bios on its home page makes a clear, engaging and — some might argue — innovative branding statement.

Over the past several months the team at website development and marketing firm Great Jakes has been making a persuasive case for fundamentally reconceiving law firm websites as marketing platforms for individual rainmakers (instead of the traditional focus on firm practices/capabilities), and the firm recently reconfigured it’s own services offering to deliver that model.

Interestingly, despite an otherwise unremarkable website, V&E’s home page makes the case for how a simple array of bios can command attention and communicate a brand message.

What stands out:

  • Attorney headshots are the only images on the page and therefore immediately grab and anchor visitors’ attention.
  • As the dominant design element, the “Featured Lawyers” box — by design or default — communicates a unique value proposition: the broad capabilities, professional accomplishments and diversity of its key players.
  • Visitors read bios more than any other website content type, and placement on the front page stimulates click-through to the full bios as well as to additional pages of featured lawyers.

Imagine how impactful this approach would be with a few more graphic blandishments to make the site more visually appealing, and dynamic content to add usefulness and depth, attract search engines, and encourage repeat visits.

What law firm sites — large, mid-size or small — do you believe leverage rainmaker bios to their best advantage?

The ROI of Legal PR: There’s Still Value if You Look for It

Just a short meditation today…

I’ve been involved in a LinkedIn group discussion thread that has veered into calls for comparative ROI data on the range of social media marketing platforms — Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn vs. blogs. Conspicuous by its absence from that discussion is the comparative value of traditional media relations. Although online social media has eviscerated traditional media, law firms still spend not insignificant amounts of time and money chasing trade press, local print and broadcast outlets and — the Holy Grail —  national publications and news programs.

As I’ve written before, apart from trade outlets, media relations for law firms is a low probability proposition at best. And even when you do get a good mention or score an interview, how much is that worth? Whatever your reasons for pursuing a media relations strategy, there are steps you can take to improve your odds of garnering general media coverage while streamlining effort and reducing costs:

  • Calendarize your opportunities: Your odds of getting included in a story are significantly higher if you time and customize your pitches for holidays and annual events (Tax Day, back to school).
  • Have bulleted content and a media relations — not website — version of your bio ready for opportunistic pitching: “Top 10” lists — the actual number of items can vary —  are a staple of what now passes as news. So if a local or national story concerning your practice area breaks, you can immediately send you media target list some ready-to-run content instead of calling up to explain why you’re a subject matter expert.
  • Pitch trend stories: Use your handy dandy “Top 10” lists to sell your feature story ideas.
  • Pitch morning shows instead of news programs: Morning shows feature extended interviews, while news reports just need soundbites.
  • Focus on trade media outlets that also post their content online for free: Online content that requires a subscription cannot be readily added to your site, publicized or shared. Nothing galls visitors more than slamming into a pay wall when they click one of your website or Twitter links.

How much time/money do you spend on media relations? How do those efforts compare with your social media results?

Brave New Business Cards

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/19183704 w=400&h=295]

American Psycho Business Card Scene (Lip-Sync) from Joel Mellström on Vimeo.

When Heather Morse recently asked, “Is the business card dead?” my initial thought was, “Yes, for many years now — but a tough zombie, likely to endure for a long time.” Her point — and I think she’s spot on — is that physical addresses printed on physical media are increasingly irrelevant at business gatherings now dominated by mobile devices and online social networking.

It got me thinking, though: We now have the technology to cure that form of zombie-ism. But not only that, the new incarnation would be even better than before, able to do much more than transmit contact information.

The flavor of the moment is QR codes — those pixellated postage stamp-looking violators (i.e. graphical elements that “break” the overall design) increasingly showing up in printed and online advertising. Originally developed as an alternative to bar codes for supply chain and other commercial tracking applications, QR codes have metastasized into social media.

When photographed by smartphones loaded with reader software, QR codes automatically link to Web-based information. While massively useful, in most advertising for professional services QR codes look like weird, unsightly gimmicks. But in simple layouts — like business cards — they make perfect sense.

While the first impulse for may would be to embed vCard info on the business card QR code and call it good, I think that leaves too much opportunity on the table — like using a PC as a typewriter. Why not use the business card QR code to access a purpose-built microsite that includes links to the cardholder’s bio, white papers, presentations and videos?

Here’s what patent attorney Steve O’Donnell has done:

“My business card has a QR code on it. If someone wants the card, they’re more than welcome to keep it, but I’ve also had people scan the code (which takes them to a small mobile site created just for this purpose where they can send me an email, get a vCard, visit my full site or see my AVVO and LinkedIn profiles) and hand it back to me.”

And think about the money you could save — production costs, shipping, storage — if you eliminated printed collateral by creating an online .pdf library that could be accessed through a business card QR code. Your business card becomes a virtual trade show display that you carry in your pocket. No more worrying about expensive brochures getting thrown away before they leave the exhibit hall.

Put another way, the printed business card was the world’s first mobile branding application. Why not bring it into the digital age?

Is Law Firm Branding Possible?

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdFg6seiRdg&w=640&h=390]

Although they tend to be used interchangeably in legal marketing, the terms “brand” and “reputation” are not the same thing. Firms live and die by their reputation, but it’s debatable whether law firm branding is even possible.

Rees Morrison gets to the heart of the matter in a post recapping a recent conference organized by Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession:

“I don’t recall any general counsel I have consulted to who think of law firms they use as ‘brands.’ They don’t say, ‘X firm is a global leader,’ or that ‘Y firm puts clients first,’ let alone that ‘Z knows Canada.’ My sense is that inside counsel amalgamate impressions of the style and ability of individual partners they have dealt with from the firm mixed in with fragments of articles read or conferences spoken at by the lawyers of the firm all combined with some ads they have fleetingly glanced at as well as remarks made by peers and colleagues. The pastiche doesn’t rise to any level of ‘brand’ clarity [emphasis added]. Other than size or ‘AmLaw 100 I think’ they don’t store impressions as overall brands.

 “When pushed, a general counsel can always dredge up broad impressions of a firm: ‘A has uneven quality,’ ‘B litigates aggressively,’ or ‘C mostly does patents,’ but those are scattered attributes, not an overall, let alone distinctive, brand, and they are secondary.”

Morrison quotes conference panelist Ken Grady, general counsel of Wolverine Worldwide, observing, “Law firms talk about a single brand with hundreds of channels (the partners); I see hundreds of brands funneled through a single channel” [emphasis added].

 In other words, the currency of legal marketing is personal reputation, not firm brand.

 The problem with the general practice of legal “branding” is that it tends to fetishize standardized visual identity and slogans — taglines, logos, websites, collateral, Powerpoint templates, business cards — as the embodiment of the firm. Writing last year about the “‘rigorous branding analysis’ that led to an office-by-office and practice-by-practice review” at Baker & McKenzie Jayne Navarre identifies a tail-wagging-the-dog aspect of the process:

 “…It wasn’t the visual results that made the re-branding most valuable to the firm and its clients, it was the process—the rigorous branding analysis—and the outcome of that exercise that enabled them to re-connect with clients and ultimately drive their revenues.”

Blogs Illustrated: Adding Interest, Impact and SEO to Your Blog Posts

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lde77E4PY4Q&w=480&h=390]

As one of the last of a dying breed — a journalist who actually went through J-school — incorporating images (still and moving) with copy in blog posts is bred in the bone. The best images are editorial — eye-catching, interesting, entertaining. On a legal blog, adding a basic stock image of a courtroom scene contributes nothing to the post. However, a metaphorical representation of the argument(s) being made in the text elevates both.

Photos, illustrations and videos:

  1. Telegraph and animate the narrative’s main ideas
  2. Have been empirically shown to aid in memory and recall
  3. Break up copy blocks in order to engage the eye and make the text more readable
  4. Enhance SEO (especially video)

But if you’re not an avid photographer, videographer or illustrator and don’t have the resources or inclination to pay for images, how do you find the “art” for the story? You can find them through a simple search on Google, Flickr, YouTube, etc., but you’re basically on your own concerning pesky legal issues like provenance, copyright and “fair use.”

While not foolproof, there are several curation sites that can help you finesse those search engines to  find free images with no or few strings attached, as well as sites that offer free images as part of their paid services:

(With acknowledgment and thanks to participants in Rachel Carlson’s recent Legal Blogging LinkedIn group discussion thread)

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 11/5/2010

Technically, my posts of the week are tweets. Specifically, the Twitter-driven call to arms and online mobilization in defense of social media for legal marketing. The issue involved is the ABA’s announcement in its Issues Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools memo of its intention to promulgate new standards affecting:

  • Online social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter)
  • Blogging
  • Facebook and Linkedin profiles
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Gathering information through networking websites
  • Discussion forums
  • JD Supra document uploads
  • Lawyer websites
  • Use of case histories on law firm websites

I’m not sure who first sounded the alarm, but I’ll credit Heather Morse because hers was the first #LMA hashtag tweet on the subject (and I know, like and trust her 🙂 ). Heather’s message was retweeted over the next few days by, among others,  Nicole Carrubba, Auctorilaw, Jesse Wilkins, Nancy Myrland, Lindsay Griffith, Gail LamarcheDeb Cochran, Melanie Green Rebecca Wissler and The Great Jakes.

Larry Bodine amplified the issue with a “RED ALERT” blog post, a CMO Forum LinkedIn group discussion thread and the #ABAREGS Twitter hashtag.

The social media buzz on the topic picked up so much volume and momentum that it inspired the Voldemort-cum-Andy-Rooney of legal blogging (who I never mention by name or link to) to puke his trademark self-righteous bile on it in his “22,500 Tears” post.

I applaud and commend the clarion calls for thoughtful attention and advocacy on the issue, but I also net out with Adrian Dayton on the “silver lining” of this kerfuffle:

“Thousands of lawyers are waiting in the wings afraid to use social media because they aren’t sure how to use the tools – and there is such little guidance from state bar associations and the ABA that many are simply staying away.

“It is about time the ABA took look at online marketing and helped provide some assurances to so many attorneys that look to these governing bodies for advice.  As lawyers it is our responsibility to let the ABA know our opinions on the topic.  The ABA is accepting comments until December 15, 2010 to guide them in their decisions – feel free to make your voice heard.”

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 10/08/10

I am a big fan of Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert blog, and this week’s “Six Timely Tips for Twitter Success” is a must-read, especially if your Twitter strategy lacks vitality. I particularly like the tip of scheduling posts to appear just after the top and bottom of the hour to catch tweeps as they check Twitter between meetings.

Dion Algeri at The Great Jakes Blog is on a roll about ways to improve the impact of attorney bios, and this week posted a pictorial spread of attorney headshots, annotated with what works/doesn’t work in each example.

Adrian Dayton combines Algeri’s insights with other interesting data points and SME comments in a broader argument for reconceiving the style, substance and role of attorney bios in “What’s Wrong With Your Law Firm Bio” on Above the Law.

Attorney Bios as Street Fashion

Legal marketers would be wise to heed fashion writer Teri Agins’ advice in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Pay close attention to the daily fashion parade.”

The legal marketing street buzz that currently intrigues me is personalized attorney bios, because 1) it’s a blessed respite from blogging-as-cutting-edge-marketing paeans, 2) it hints at the humanization of the profession and innovation in legal marketing, and 3) it has valences to SEO, WOMCRM and content marketing.

The transformative power of personalized content and engaging visual style is coming to legal marketing.

One of the catalysts has been a string of recent posts on attorney bios by Dion Algeri on The Great Jakes Blog, particularly the post “The future of attorney bios. How personal is too personal?” In it, Algeri critiques the website attorney bios of Axiom and Edelson McGuire, in both cases netting out that they might be too long on style and short on substance. A post today by Algeri explores the visual — and brand — impact of attorney headshots.

Lawyer-turned-therapist Will Meyerhofer, whose blog The People’s Therapist is carried on Above the Law, makes a case for innovation in attorney bios with his own attention-grabbing, John Waters-themed post “A sick and boring life”:

“There’s no sense of an actual person in those pages – only a scary apparition from the world of the serious and very grown-up.

I still recoil, looking at those bland, comically formal law firm directory pages – just as I wince looking at my old photo in the Sullivan & Cromwell facebook.”

I’ll conclude this post the way I started it, with a fashion axiom from Teri Agins that also is finding resonance in legal marketing: “The most original dressers have one thing in common: They tend to experiment with bold, unexpected colors.”

Now don’t go crazy — this is still legal marketing — but experimenting with bold design and personalized narratives could get you attention and help tell your story in a more compelling, impactful, memorable and influential way.

UPDATE: Speaking of going crazy, check out this off-the-hook website for French attorney Justin Conseil.